Shipp talks shop

Former Oklahoma linebacker great and current defensive line coach Jackie Shipp remembers his career as a Sooner and talks about his current group of defensive tackles. Shipp still currently holds Oklahoma records for tackles in a season and tackles in one game. (Photo/

Jackie Shipp was one of the greatest linebackers in the history of OU Football. Teaming with Thomas Benson, the duo of Shipp and Benson is regarded as one of the top linebacker duo's in OU history. The Stillwater, Okla. native currently holds OU records for tackles in one game (23) and tackles in one season (189 in 1981).

Now, Shipp has developed into one of the top assistant coaches in college football currently working with the Sooners defensive tackles.
I get as many request to interview Jackie Shipp as any other coach on, and recently Coach Shipp agreed to talk with this reporter on a number of different subjects.

JH: Oklahoma has always been known for great linebackers and you are part of that great legacy. Wouldn't you agree that OU has had as great a run on linebackers as any programs in the country?

JS: "Go back to the Bud Wilkinson days and look at all the different players that played in the different ears. Go back and look at all the great linebackers that played for OU in the 40, 50s, 60s, 70s and on up to our present time. The University of Oklahoma has always had good linebackers in every decade. I guess it would be the same situation like USC always having a great running back. We have had a great tradition of linebackers and that continues to build. I think some of these young ones that we have coming up this upcoming season and in the future are going to build on that tradition even more."

JH: When you are recruiting prep linebackers, how much does the tradition of great linebacker play coming into play out on the recruiting trail?

JS: "I think the big thing about the tradition of linebackers at OU is that traditionally linebackers could always run at Oklahoma. When we go out recruiting we are always looking for speed. To have a pretty good defense, you need a fast defense. We have been very fortunate in that area because a lot of linebackers who have come through Oklahoma could run and make plays from sideline-to-sideline. So when you are out there recruiting, that is exactly what you are looking for. To be honest, I think everybody in the country is looking for that type of linebacker."

JH: When you were coming out of Stillwater High School did you look at Oklahoma at that time because OU had first great speed linebacker in Rod Shoate?

JS: "No, I don't think so. I knew about Rod Shoate, especially growing up in Stillwater and having the opportunity to watch him play when the University of Oklahoma would come to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State. OU always had players like Rod Shoate, Daryl Hunt, George Cumby, Dave Smith, Reggie Mathis and I remember a guy that played outside linebacker named Maddog Phillips.

"It was just the way that Oklahoma played at the time. I always say they played with four linebackers, because back then the two outside linebackers stood up. Today, we call them defensive ends in our 4-3 scheme. They are guys who are always running and flying to the football. And just the school itself — the University of Oklahoma — had a lot do with me playing at OU. Then you had Coach Switzer. And it did not hurt that you had a great tradition of linebackers at the University of Oklahoma. The fact that I would have a chance to play for championships also a great deal to do with it."

JH: What was it like playing with a guy as talented as Thomas Benson?

JS: "Thomas is the best athlete that I have ever seen play linebacker. I really believe that. That includes some guys that I have seen play pro ball. Thomas Benson was about 6-foot-1 and 240-pounds and he could run a 4.4 40. He was very explosive and very fast. He was an intelligent football player and a heck of a guy. I always say that he was the best that I have seen."

JH: Don't you think you guys were a great combination?

JS: "Yeah, we did pretty good."

JH: How does a great linebacker like Jackie Shipp wind up coaching defensive tackles?

JS: "It really isn't very different. I always say that a defensive lineman is just like a linebacker. The only difference is that a defensive lineman is in a 3-point stance and a linebacker is in a 2-point stance. We are both trying to do the same thing, which is stop the run up front. Now the difference might be we will rush the passer as a defensive lineman, while the linebackers will drop back in coverage. However, in today's football you see D-linemen drop back into coverage and you are seeing linebackers sent on blitzing or rushing the passer. So they are doing the same thing. You are still going off movement of the ball off your visual key, you still have your pressure keys, you are still running to the football, chasing the football. But it is just one position is closer to the football.

"I think coaching D-line has been more of a challenge because of all the positions on the field, a defensive lineman has to react quicker than anybody. There is a lot of teaching involved in that from a technique standpoint. You teach technique at linebacker and a lot of times you get into defensive pass drops and you scheme more where to be. With defensive linemen you do that, but because you are so close to the ball, and you are getting blocked on every play, you do a lot with technique. I have really enjoyed that. Basically, from a mental standpoint in pre-snap reads, the same thing that the linebackers look for is the same thing that I teach the D-linemen to look for. There is not too much of a difference between the two, but I think some would look at it and say there is a lot of difference."

JH: Your players talk about the technique that they are learning and how much it helps them. Is there a lot more technique involved in playing defensive tackle than most of us know about right?

JS: "Exactly. Go back and think about something. I know you went to Midwest City High School and that high school is known for its wrestling. You are talking about a one-on-one competition. But how many of those wrestlers did you see in high school that were great wrestlers, even went on to be great collegiate wresters, just out-muscle somebody every time? You are not going to out-muscle people in a one-on-one battle very time because sometimes that person across from you has a physical advantage.

"The key to any sport I believe, or anything that you do, is having a great technique and knowing what you are doing. Having great technique is how you can be successful at something. All great athletes have it. When you see these guys play professional football, especially these guys who have played for a long time, believe me they are specialists at what they do because they have a great understanding and a great technique at what they do.

"To be a defensive lineman and to be successful, you want these guys to be the best players they can possibly be. As a coach, sometimes it upsets you because you might want it a little bit more than he does. You are pushing and pushing him to be the best and when they get these techniques down, and they have them down to a science and can do them full speed and they see results, then they are going to reach their goal of being the type of football player they want to be.

"So, to me, that is very important having knowledge of the game. But, first of all, and most definitely, you have to have the physical tools. You add a great knowledge of the game to great physical tools and you have an opportunity to have a great player there. When a young man realizes all his dreams, maybe he will go to a dream that he had when he was six or seven years old."

JH: What is your take on your defensive tackles following this year's spring practice?

JS: "I think we had a good spring practice and we had a lot of improvement in guys. I think that Cory Bennett had the best spring that he has ever had. He has gotten bigger and he had a good spring. I think they all had a good spring.

"Gerald McCoy has made great strides. I wish that he could have finished the last three or four practices that we had before he strained a calf. DeMarcus Granger had a good spring. Steven Coleman got injured so he didn't get a chance to go through the spring, but I think that helped guys like Adrian Taylor ,who is going to be a very good football player at the University of Oklahoma. He was able to get a lot more reps.

"Tommy Taggart is a walk-on who had a very good spring. So we had a lot of good improvement, but we still have some things to work on. I think this is going to be a very good group."

JH: What a story Tommy Taggart is, who you actually started in the spring game. You don't see many walk-ons come through at defensive tackle do you?

JS: "Yeah, he really did a good job at times. However, we have had great walk-ons before at defensive tackle. Derland Moore was a track guy, if you will remember, and then he walked-on to the football team. From there, he played in the NFL 14 years and was drafted by the New Orleans Saints. I don't know if that will happen to Tommy Taggart, but he can help us. He can get in that rotation and help us and do some of the things that he can do. I think he can be a good story here in a couple of years."

JH: DeMarcus Granger said he was working at the 3-technique instead of the nose, but you want to see all of your guys learn both defensive tackle positions don't you? Do you have guys who are more suited for one position or the other?

JS: "In my opinion, and I am sure most coaches will tell you this, that a shade is a shade. You are playing a half off an offensive linemen as you are lined on his shoulder. A shade is a shade, and you want players to play both inside positions as well as you want players to be play both outside positions at defensive end. The only difference probably in the two is you would like the shade at nose guard who is lined over the center to probably be a thicker, heavier guy because he takes on so many double teams.

"Usually, a 3-technique is your best athlete and could definitely help you as your better pass rusher. He is more of a two-way guy who can go. If you ever get into that situation where you have guys who can play both, then that helps your defense. Tommie Harris played them both and Dusty Dvoracek played them both. Kory Klein could play them both, but the only thing that hurt him at nose was that he was 268 pounds. If you ever get into a situation where you have injuries, I would rather have all of our guys play both of them so that position won't fall off.

"You get into a position where when the offense shifts you just have your defensive tackles slide over if they know both positions. So players that know them both is your best scenario. And in some situations you might have a group of athletes where that guy is just going to play nose guard, he doesn't have the speed to play the 3-technique. In most cases, we have been very fortunate in that we have had guys who could do both, but if we ever get back to the situation where we have guys who can only play one then we will have to deal with that."

JH: So when you look for combinations to throw out there, are you looking for combinations of guys who play well together or are you are just looking for your two best players?

JS: "Who they are or how well they play together doesn't have anything to do with it. It is who is you're two best or four best players are. I go back and look at Tommie Harris for example. As a freshman, he played a lot better at the nose, but he ended up being a 3-technique his last two years and in the NFL he is a pro 3-technique. He was more comfortable as a true freshman lining up close to the center where he was lining up close to the football. He could just go attack and make plays. When you are a 3-technique, you are a little further off the ball and things are a little different. That is a Tommie Harris' situation.

"It just depends on the particular players that you have. That is why I try to find players who can play both positions. If we can get somebody who can do both then we have a gem, but if we have one guy who can only do one thing that does not mean he is not going to be a great player, but you would like to be able to have them to do both and you are confident in their ability."

JH: Is it getting more difficult to coach defense in the college game today? It seems that offenses are getting so complex?

JS: "I think the game has changed and it is a faster game today. There is always talk about how much defenses blitz now. If you remember, when we came up the quarterback had to face probably cover-2, maybe cover-3 and some man coverage. There wasn't a lot of blitzing or what have you. Now, you look how the game has changed as you still have those same coverages, but look at all the different zone-blitzes and all the different man blitzes.

"There is so much blitzing now in the game of college football. It is not just a defensive lineman running a stunt trying to free one linebacker. Now the defensive line might be running a stunt and you are bringing one linebacker, and also here comes safety. Or it might be a corner off the edge. You never know where they are coming from. I think the game has evolved that way.

"I think some of the things that have changed the game the most are rule changes. Used to be you could jam a receiver all over the football field, but now it is to the point where you have to hit him within a 5-yard period and you can't touch him any more after that. I think that helps with your scoring on offense. So, the rules have changed and the game has evolved and there are more different type of offenses, especially in college. In college, you will face some option offense one week, shotgun no-huddle the next week and then I-formation and running downhill the next week.

"You can get so many different things, but in the pros you don't get any option and they stay pretty basic with some things. They see if they can spread you out now and get more one more hat on a blocker. I think coaches have always done those things, but players have evolved. The game has evolved from a scheme standpoint and I think some rule changes have helped the offense. They are always trying to help the offense."

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